El Dia de Los Muertos
It's a human occurrence to celebrate life and death around autumn: Samhain, Halloween, the celebration of growing crops coupled with the dying process of leaves. In Mexican culture, they have their own holiday, El Dia De Los Muertos, the day of the dead. It's not actually a day but two days, November first and second. They coincide with the Catholic holidays All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, each on the respective dates.
It's not just about the death of friends and family, but the celebration of their life. Many families take these days to go to cemeteries, decorate their loved ones' burial sites. One common practice is the set up of platforms, adorned with candles, colorful painted skulls (also known as sugar skulls), pictures of lost loved ones, and their belongings. Sugar skulls are seen as uniquely Mexican in contemporary culture, but actually come from Italian missionaries, who made sugar art.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of a Dia De Los Muertos event, and we put together an alter for those we had lost. There was also food, given as an offering to the weary souls. We each brought a food item for our loved one being honored, and everyone got to share a story for the person that they recognized on the alter. I felt very lucky to be a part of such an event.
The holiday dates back to the days of the Aztecs, when the Spanish arrived, they were horrified to see the idealization of human skulls. The skulls were used as trophies to celebrate death and life. They had a festival for the Queen of the Underworld, a goddess called Mictecacihuatl (talk about a tongue twister). It was thought that she preceeded over the festival; today, she is a part of the festivities around Mexico, if just for the historical significance of the longevity of this holiday. Many other cultures and peoples have their own similar holidays celebrating the dead and the joy of life.
written by Jessica Shakarian